Blackwater Canyon Trail

Unless indicated otherwise most all the information on this page is excerpted from the book "History Of Tucker County" by Homer Floyd Fansler. First published in 1962 and now in it's fourth printing this is a entertaining and informative book on early Tucker County. The author, now deceased, was a direct descendant of a Revolutionary War veteran who was a early settler in the county. I've spoken with friends of Homer Fansler and if only half the stories they tell about him are true he must have been quite the character.

The book "History Of Tucker County" is available for purchase from it's publisher Mcclain Printing Company, Parsons, West Virginia at this web page.

The first settler in the Thomas area was Jacob Christian Pase who arrived in 1880. Nearby Pase Point bears the family name. On August 10 1884, the West Virginia Central and Pittsburg Railway brought it's road into Thomas. That year a post office, a hotel, a bakery and two stores opened. A coal mine had been opened in the winter of 1883-1884 and was ready to ship coal as soon as the railroad arrived. The next eight years brought an era of rapid growth with many changes and improvements. More settlers came, more mines were opened and large sawmills began to convert the great forests into timber.

Thomas was incorporated as a town on June 13 1892. A census taken before incorporation showed a population of 693. By 1920 the population had reached what would be it's greatest level of 2099. By 1930 it had fallen to 1660.

Thomas was named for Thomas Beall Davis, a brother of Henry Gassaway Davis who was the owner of the West Virginia Central and Pittsburg Railway.

It was at this time that the great tide of immigration of southern Europeans to America was in progress. Hundreds of them came to the Thomas area to build the railroad and work in the mines and lumber camps. These new citizens carried names like DeCicco, Benedetto, DiBacco, Depollos, DiMaios, Dilettosos, Gennantonios, Greccos, Massis, Mondas, Pintos, Quattros, Udovichs. With the influx of non-english speaking workers Davis Coal & Coal Company had to hired full-time interpreters.

When electricity came to Thomas in 1904 it was supplied the Davis Coal & Coal Company power plants. West Virginia Central and Pittsburg Railway established a machine shop and roundhouse in 1889 and enlarged them in 1900. It remained in use until the advent of diesel locomotives in 1953. The foundation for the roundhouse is easily identifiable along the old railbed.

East Avenue was paved with brick in 1909 and was the first paved road or street in Tucker County. East Avenue, which runs north to south, is reportedly named that since all the buildings are on the east side. The stone retaining wall on Spruce Street was constructed by the Works Progress Administration in 1938 during the Great Depression.

The altitude of Thomas and the fact it is near the crest of a plateau make it vulnerable to tornadoes. It has been struck three times in the last 90 years. In 1925 killing three, 1944 killing three and destroying the train depot and again in 1954 damaging the new train depot.

The Buxton and Landstreet building, now home to the Mountain Made Gallery, was opened as a company store in 1900. It replaced the first store which sat on the same site and had burned down the year before. When it opened it was considered the finest building in Tucker County. Since it was a company store for the Davis Coke & Coal Company it used a system of "trade coins". These were little brass discs stamped in various denominations from one cent to one dollar. As the mines petered out so did the local business. The store closed May 27, 1950.

"Coketon" is the term for the central mining facility of the Davis Coal & Coke Company between Thomas and Douglas, West Virginia. Located along the North Fork of the Blackwater River in Tucker County, Coketon was an integral part of the vast and productive industrial complex of Henry G. Davis. In 1884, the railroad reached Thomas where Davis Coal & Coke had already begun active mining operations. Around the turn of the century, approximately 400 houses centered around the roundhouse and machine shops, and the valley was home to about 1,500 people. The community of Thomas boasted an opera house, hotels, banks, schools, and fraternal orders uniting 18 nationalities into the little city.

In the center of the Davis operation was a large coking facility on a mile-and-a-half stretch of the North Fork between Thomas and Douglas. An 1887 experiment with two ovens convinced the coal company that a coking facility would be very profitable. The coal company converted raw coal into coke, the purest form of carbon and the most important by-product of coal. Coke was the premier "reducing agent" fuel in the world at the time, capable of smelting iron ore rapidly into steel through the Bessemer process. In the late 1800's, coke was produced by baking coal in huge stone or brick ovens until its impurities were driven off. The types of impurities driven out of the coal were a function of the amount of oxygen allowed into the oven (which was controlled by doors on the front of the oven) and the resultant temperature in the oven. It required nearly two tons of raw coal to produce one ton of coke. Long rows of "beehive" coke ovens, linked by tracks to the mine and tipple, burned night and day, tended by hundreds of laborers.

Eventually, Coketon contained 600 ovens. The Davis Coal & Coke Company's cokeyards employed about 150 men and burned for 250 days a year. By 1900, Coketon made Tucker County the third largest coke-producing county in the state. In 1904 alone, Coketon produced 200,000 tons of coke. During each year from 1915 to 1921, the 15 mines near Coketon shipped over 1 million tons of coal, making it the sixth most productive operation in West Virginia.

In 1915, a change in mining technology revolutionized the steel-making process, thereby eliminating the need for coke ovens at the mine site. By 1919, there was no coke production whatsoever in Tucker County, leaving the long banks of obsolete coke ovens unused. Coal, however, was still mined at the site in record quantities. From 1920 through the 1940's, the company continued production. As the seams were worked out and the mines closed, the population slowly declined, and the facility slowly began to shut down. By 1950, only two mines, #36 and #40, were still working and tonnage had fallen to 100,000 by 1954. By 1956, underground mining had ceased altogether with a few surface mining operations producing coal through 1965.

Although time and vandalism have eroded the Coketon complex, significant ruins are nevertheless extant. The town of Thomas retains much of its architectural integrity, featuring the company store and office building, and numerous well-kept and relatively unaltered miners' houses. Poured and cut stone and masonry foundations remain from the power house, as do the ventilation fan housing and tipple support pillars. Railroad trestles and graded railbeds line the North Fork of the Blackwater. Several mine portals stand open, including the #29 portal. The Chief Inspector of the West Virginia Department of Mines observed in his 1904 Annual Report that "an unusual amount of water is generated at #29, and the drainage is not very good."

The most significant and striking cultural resources of the site are the rows of coke ovens which line both sides of the valley. An entire bank of ovens stands free in the middle of the site (Picture 1), while both walls of the hollow are lined with the brick and stone ovens. The roadbed of the Western Maryland Railroad extends some miles to Hendricks, and features fine cut stone bridges and gorgeous vistas of the canyon below.
(The preceding information was excerpted from Stuart McGehee, 1992, "Coketon: Documentation of Historic Resources")

1994 - A wet seal is being placed across the mouth of Mine #29 portal.

Douglas was founded in 1891 by the Gorman brothers, Douglas Sr. and William H., who were senior partners in the Cumberland Coal & Coke Company, a subsidiary of the Davis Coal & Coke Company. The town was named for Douglas Gorman Jr. but since there was already a Douglas post office in Calhoun County the post office was named for Albert Gorman, a brother of Douglas Jr.

The population in 1910 was 900, in 1920 it was 600 and by 2008 it's below 50. The town was never incorporated. It was both a lumber town and a coal town. The lumber industry quit in 1912 and the coal industry petered out in 1954.

The Cumberland Coal & Coke Company commenced operations at Douglas in the spring of 1891, and coal from the first mine was transported to a small tipple by means of a incline. In 1892 another mine was opened a quarter mile from the tipple and a tramway was constructed to bring the coal to the tipple, with the use of a small locomotive. Down through the years other mines were opened and closed as they became exhausted. As many as a dozen opening were made but by 1938, only one mine was in operation. The company had it's own power plant and the mine was entirely motorized. In 1894 the first coke ovens were constructed and, at the peak of the coke industry, the company was operating 175 ovens. At night these burning ovens, with those of the Davis Coal & Coke Company, illuminated the two miles of railway between Douglas and Thomas like a city street.

The first sawmill was erected in 1893, burned 1900 and rebuilt the same year. In 1903 the mill was closed and the Blackwater Lumber Company attempted to haul their logs to Davis over the West Virginia Central and Pittsburg Railway but it was so unsatisfactory the company built a narrow gauge railroad from Douglas to Davis following the brink of the canyon. The Pase Point Trail at Blackwater Falls State Park follows this old narrow gauge right of way. Some of the old ties can still be found.

When the coal company began operations they built 45 dwellings. The lumber company built 15 dwellings. A few of these are still standing in Douglas.

At it's peak with the mines, mills and ovens at full capacity the population was made up of many nationalities. The sawmill would employ only native Americans but the coal company employed Russians, Austrians, Germans, Polish, Irish, African-Americans, English, Italians, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Serbians and Mexicans.

In 1919 Douglas had a champion baseball team. They played a league composed of towns located along the Western Maryland Railway. The team was composed of employees of the coal company who had been hired primarily because of their ability to play baseball.

A number of things contributed to the decline of Douglas, beginning with the World War of 1917-1918, and progressing through the labor strikes in the summer of 1922, the extinction of the coke industry and the general exodus of the population.

The first non-native setters probably came through Hendricks two hundred years ago. It was natural to come over the Allegheny Front at Dolly Sods then follow down Red Creek and Dry Fork River. The first permanent settler Henry Fansler, a Revolutionary War veteran, came in 1803 and built a log cabin which stood until 1958. He was also the first settler in Canaan Valley and give it it's Biblical name. He originally named this area Eden but the name never stuck.

In 1852 the Goff family built a sawmill in town. The millrace that was dug can still be traced along Race Street to the upper end of town. Lumber from this mill was rafted down the river to Rowlesburg. Individuals branded their lumber like cattle so it could be identified. Copies of the brands were filed at the courthouse and can still be seen. David Hunter Strother, known as "Porte Crayon", wrote in the 1857 Harpers New Monthly Magazine about visiting the Fansler homestead.

In 1884 Grover Cleveland and Thomas Andrews Hendricks were elected President and Vice-President respectively. The local postmaster requested the Post Office Department to change the name of the post office to Cleveland in honor of the new president. The request was denied because there was already a Cleveland in Webster County. He reportedly said "If I can't get the best, I'll take the next best," and the name was changed to Hendricks. This was completed in 1885 and has remained the town name since.

In 1889 the first trains from the West Virginia Central and Pittsburg Railway started to arrive in Hendricks. Just two years before there were only five buildings in town but after the railroad the town grew so fast that the local sawmills couldn't keep up and lumber had to be imported from Rowlesburg. The Dry Fork Railroad was built from Hendricks to Horton in 1893-1894 and flourished for 42 years, going out of business in 1936. Their office and shops were in Hendricks; the shops across the Blackwater River in the angle formed by the merging of both rivers.

The town was incorporated June 13 1894. The first census that year counted 158 persons. One of the early businesses was a moving picture theatre called the "The Red Onion". Reportedly so named because it was painted red and was afflicted with the usual odors that infest a ramp eating community.

The golden era of Hendricks covered approximately thirty years from 1890 to 1920. It's population was never over 640. In it's heyday it had two banks, three hotels, seven restaurants, seven stores, an opera house, a moving picture theatre, a bakery, a jewelry store, a drug store, a photo gallery, a millinery shop, two factories, two doctors, two barbers, two railroads, two schools, two bands and a railroad shop. Hendricks was the focal point for the vast Dry Fork region whose population would flock to the town on the Fourth of July and when a circus was in town.

Then & Now: Thomas in 1920.
Then & Now: Thomas Coaling Station in 1912.
Then & Now: Thomas Depot in 1954.
Then & Now: Coketon in 1900.
Then & Now: Coketon in 1960
after all the mining had ended.
Then & Now: Douglas Tipple in 1917.
This view is looking back up the trail.
Then & Now: How the town of Douglas looked in 1918.
Then & Now: How Lookout Point appeared in 1908.
Then & Now: Mountain Station in 1957.
Then & Now: Hendricks Depot in 1905.

Fun Places To Bike In West Virginia
All information is presented without any assurance of accuracy. Use at your own risk.
Distance measurements are approximate.
All photos © 2008 J. Watson. All rights reserved.